Some years ago there was in the city of York a society of magicians.
–Susanna Clarke - Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell - c.2004
First read in December 2004, reread in July 2017.
I loved this book when I first read it. And loved the tv adaptation that came out last year1 so when Aarti suggested a reread I thought it was a great idea. One of the main reasons I haven’t reread it before now is that the book is enormous. And I love big books! Okay, mainly it was the hassle of having to carry that giant hardback around with me, but luckily we now have ebooks, so I requested the ebook version from the library and got started with my own hbk copy. After a week or so I got the ebook and that made life so much easier, although the footnotes didn’t work so well. And I love the little asides and stories that are told in the footnotes so when I was at home I often reverted to the hard copy.
I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the reread, just as much, if not more, as my initial read. I love the way Clarke reveals the story. Her alternate world is wonderfully blended with the historical one. And it has such a sense of history behind it. The world building is just great.
And it doesn’t ignore the fact that much of England’s wealth and power is built off the backs of slavery and colonialism. Stephen’s story stood out all the more on this read, I would actually love to know more about him and where life took him after the novel ends. I’d love to know more about them all actually, where is the sequel? I’d love to read it.
Below is my review from 2004:
A fantastic story about the two magicians who returned magic to England, set in the Napoleonic era, this book is written in a wonderfully dry, humourous fashion. Mr. Norrell arrives on the scene first, he is withdrawn, selfish and more than a little unpleasant. Above all, he desires to bring about the return of magic, yet among his first acts in the book is to put a stop to the theoretical magician’s society of York.
Again and again he attempts to gain respectability, eventually he comes to the attention of the government, after bringing Lady Pole back from the dead.
Jonathan Strange is a very different character. In almost all aspects he is the opposite of Mr. Norrell, save that he shares his desire to return magic to the land. And especially the magic of the Raven King. He accompanies the English army to the continent and helps in their battles against Napoleon.
The plot moves slowly, and the voice of the narrator stands out in the book. Normally, the two things I look for in a book are characters and plot. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell feature neither to a great degree, instead it is the descriptions and occurrences that stand out. Written in a similar style to Jane Austen books, complete with asides to the reader. These, together with the footnotes add to the atmosphere and Clarke has succeeded in creating a wonderfully readable book.
or was it the year before? I’m not sure and I can’t face googling it as my internet connection is very very bad at the moment. And normally it is crap, so you can just imagine how slow it is now ↩